Archive for December 2013

Labels Are For Boxes

I’ve put this off twice now, so I suppose it’s time to actually discuss it.  As I stated in my very first post here, labels are a shorthand, to allow us to quickly get across concepts and ideas that may otherwise take a lot longer to make clear.  They are at their heart a distillation of the idea behind a concept into a single word or set of words.  As they are shorthand,  however they are also imprecise and their meaning depends on the experiences and opinions of the ones using it and the ones hearing it, which is why using them improperly can lead to issues.

Let’s start off with a simple example: secretary vs administrative assistant.  On the surface, they’re both job titles with basically the same duties. The latter however sounds a lot more important, while the former carries connotations for most of society that suggest it’s an easy and not-very-important job.

For another example, take the term fag.  Used in normal company it’s considered very offensive, and demeaning of gay people.  For someone who hangs out on the chans however, it’s basically lost all meaning in that regard, and people tend to just throw it around carelessly.  For example, calling someone a newfag on /m/ just means they’re a newbie, but if you said that among a random group of people, they’d be offended and misinterpret your meaning completely.

The most dangerous aspect of labels is that you can use them to organize and compartmentalize things and people.  This can easily lead to dismissal of ideas, or attacking people because of it

One hot-button example of this in the US is the Islam religion.  A small sect of extremists causes issues, but they claim the muslim label with the same right that Joe down the street claims it as a worshipper of Islam.  Then you take your average person that doesn’t care to educate themselves on issues – all they care to know is “Muslims are ‘tacking mah ‘MURRICA”  They automatically put anyone who has taken that label in the same box – that of extremist religious zeaolot.  If they happen to know anyone that doesn’t fit their mental image, they just write it off as an exception and continue dumping everyone in the Box of Evil.

To put it more plainly, labels encourage you to stop thinking.  For a lot of people, the shorthand that they represent becomes the entirety of their meaning.  To be honest, it’s the “stop thinking” part that makes the whole aspect dangerous.

For example, take the possibility of a particle physicist who also believes in Intelligent Design.  He may be extremely smart.  He may have discovered what appears to be evidence of some major discovery, such as a stable wormhole.  However, because he believes in ID, people put him in their mental “religious kook” box and ignore whatever he may have come up with.

It happens all the time if you look for it.  Conservative.  Liberal. Muslim. Creationist. Libertarian. GEEWUNNER. Furry. Feminist.  All labels that people may take up for perfectly valid reasons, but also labels that can carry misunderstanding and drama, when used among some crowds, due to each side thinking it means something different.

I guess what it comes down to is be careful how you use them.  Educate yourself on what they actually mean, not what a “news” program after ratings declares them to be.  Think, and learn.

I Am Dragon

I’m just as human as everyone else here, unless someone invented AI and didn’t tell the rest of the world.  And yet, I still call myself dragon as well. Why?  It all comes back to identity.

As I said in my previous entry, quite a few people’s self-images are simply idealized images of their physical bodies.  They tie themselves very tightly to the here-and-now.  Separate themselves from their body, and they would still take that general form.  Just so I don’t have to keep typing “idealized self-image” over and over, I’m going to borrow a term I came across elsewhere and call it their soulshape.

Then you have furries.  Excluding those who simply enjoy the art, a lot of them take on a furry persona aka fursona.  For some, this is simply the above example, but with an animal head, tail, fur, and sometimes wings.  Sometimes the animal(s) chosen is because of some attribute assigned to that type, such as foxes being sly, or wolves being loners or pack animals.  Other times, it’s just because they like some aspect about that kind of critter, such as a snow leopard’s overly fluffy tail.  Still, for a lot of them, if you ask them to picture themselves in their mind’s eye without any further detail, you can bet their mental image is their fursona.  It may have been a conscious decision or unconscious reactions due to using it all the time, but gradually a lot of them make it part of themselves, of their identity, over time.

You can probably thank the internet in part for that.  As it grew, people were able to meet and talk, in real-time, without any physical representation of themselves other than what they may choose.  Before that, you could only interact with others in meatspace, and there you were stuck with what you were given at birth. Now however, thanks to cyberspace, you can represent yourself however you wish, allowing formerly hidden facets to be displayed and come to light.

With the ability for identity to be more fluid and not forced into a single bodyplan, more outre combinations began to show up as well.  One well-known example is the race of chakats, created by Bernard Doove.  His race of tauric felinoid hermaphrodites(wow, that’s a mouthful) were created in their entirety originally by him, complete with a culture of sorts as well, and a lot of people dove into it with a will.  No doubt some were for sexual reasons, but there are a lot of “chakats” out there who recognized that it was a good representation of how they felt about themselves(setting aside the felitaur portion of things).  Human representations of hermaphrodites usually either fall into fetish material or “uncanny valley” territory, but furry provides an outlet for those who do feel themselves as both male and female, and a pre-built framework such as the chakats provides a handy tool for that sort of thing.  There’s also other bits of their culture as well, such as the multi-tiered approach to relationships that a lot have found fitting, and have adopted for themselves.

Then there are those who have gone a step beyond even that in their exploration of their identity: therians and otherkin.  Where the furries are usually human+, ‘kin tend to identify as non-human, period.  Whether that be a wolf who was reincarnated as a human, or an elf who was simply born in the wrong body, or simply a person with a dragon spirit along for the ride in your body, they all have that aspect in common:  their physical body has nothing to do with who they are, apart from acting as a filter.

To use a computer analogy, most people run Human OS on Human hardware.  Furries run a furry shell over Human OS on Human hardware.  ‘Kin run <whatever> OS on Human hardware.

Needless to say, this causes a lot of drama and confusion, as the masses who may not grasp the concept point and laugh, saying they’re stupid because if you look at them, they’re obviously human!  This then is fueled by the ‘kin in question flatly denying it(because as far as they’re concerned, they aren’t), leading to much trolling on the human side, and much wailing about “evil humans” and “fursecution” on the ‘kin side.

Not all ‘kin, however, renounce humanity and try to separate themselves completely from it. There are plenty of well-adjusted ‘kin out there who do acknowledge that they’re running on human hardware, regardless of how well it fits their soulshape, to mix terms and metaphors.  They just tend to be less noticeable than the more vocal “humans are evil!” crowd.

Then there are also those who use otherkin/therian as another mask, rather than the taking off of one that the idea suggests.  Typically these are younger folk who have had a troubled life of some kind, and are trying to find a way to run away and hide,  They come across the concept, and then you end up with the “OMG I was a dragon in a past life that was a king and a wizard, and every night I must fight secret astral wars against the hordes of Chaos to prevent them reaching the real world and I’m the only one who can do this because I’m super special awesome!”  Just, no.

In otherkin circles this is known as fluff, and the degree to which its tolerated depends on the community. Most of this type will move on after a few years, as they realize that they’re merely running away from themselves, rather than trying to truly examine and reveal who they are.  There are always those who after shaving all the fluff off still find that the shoe fits, and they tend to become the second type I mentioned as they re-integrate themselves.

It all comes back to identity.  Everything I’ve discussed so far is just labels, and as I said in the previous entry, labels are dangerous.  Again, however, that’s something better discussed as a topic all its own, so I won’t get into it here either.  The point I’m trying to get at however, is that our soulshape is a major part of our identity, like it or not.

Bringing it back full circle, where does that leave me?  Yes, I’m human, but like some of the examples above, my soulshape is not.  When I close my eyes and try to picture myself, I have to work at it to imagine my human body, and a much easier time picturing the dragon you see in various places on this site.  When I look in the mirror, I know it’s me, and my mind tells me it’s me.  Yet, it doesn’t feel like me, if that makes any sense.  It’s a part of my identity, my self, but it doesn’t feel as significant as my dragonself.

Maybe a little history will help.  Years and years ago, when I was younger, I had gotten into furry, but I had yet to come up with a fursona.  I, like a lot of others, liked wildcats and wolves, but neither really fit.  The I realized or came across the idea that foxes were halfway-between the two.  (It also helped that I considered myself somewhat smart, and foxes were known for being sly.)  When I finally started venturing out online, I combined that with a ranger character I had created for my representation out on the interwebs.

The RP portions fell away pretty quickly, but the fox part stuck, and stuck with me for several years. Still, like I mentioned above, it was generally my physical self with fox head, tail, and fur.  (I sometimes even had a tendancy to base the fur color on my hair color, since I am a redhead.) Then, I encountered Second Life.

My first fox avatar was fairly cruddy, as things go, but over several months I fine-tuned it to be closer and close to what I then considered my soulshape, even if I did not see it or consider it such back then.  Once it was all exact however, it still did not feel… complete.  Then a friend of mine introduced me to ‘taurs.

I then experimented a bit with them, to the point of creating a chakat character.  I basically asked myself if I was going to be a chakat, what would I be?  Once the newness wore off however, it was not very long before I lost interest in the character as a representation and shed it from my identity like a snake shedding its skin as it grows.

When I returned to Second Life, I tried a dragon avatar and found it a decent fit, as I’ve said before.  I also met one of my ex-girlfriends at around the same time, and at her request I pulled the fox avatar back out again for a while, to match her black vixen fursona.  It worked, but I found it didn’t fit quite right anymore, like trying to put on a pair of old pants after having lost 60 pounds.

Still, I found myself reluctant to give up the fox portion of my identity, as it had been a part of me for at least 6 or 7 years(longer, really), and for all I knew at the time, the dragon stuff might only have been a phase like ‘taurs were.  So, I decided to try blending the two.

Using various avatars as tools, I started modding and tweaking, trying to distill it down.  Rather than furry crossbreed legos, I was aiming for a complete blend.  A clear, perfect facet of myself, an answer to the question “Who are you?”.  Looking at the past 7 years, you could say that I’ve succeeded.

Ironically, what started as an attempt to preserve the “foxiness” has in the end almost entirely eliminated it.  Honestly, my dragonself is really foxlike in name only, as any features atypical of a Western-style dragon could just as easily be attributed to Eastern-style dragons.  I actually find this very fitting symbolicly, considering how I’ve grown up in the Western world but I’ve also internallized quite a bit of the Far East(or at least Japan) as well.  There’s other symbolic parallels I could name, but this entry is long enough as it is.

I also know for sure that Second Life is not the cause, as between work and WoW, I basically did not touch SL for about 2 years before returning for a short bit this past week. Even still, I never felt the need to stop representing myself as such in that time, and my dragon avatar still fit like a glove(within SL’s limitations) when I logged in.  I am human, but like it or not, I am also dragon.

FYIAD - Deal with it.

*puts on sunglasses*

Who are you?

Inquisitor: Who are you?
Delenn: I am Delenn.
Inquisitor: Unacceptable answer. I already know your name. Who are you?
Delenn: Delenn! [shocked]
Inquisitor: If you repeat an unacceptable answer, the penalty will be increased. Who are you?
Delenn: I…I am the ambassador for Minbar.
Inquisitor: Unacceptable. That is only your title. What other people call you when you choose to hide behind formalities. Who are you?
Delenn: I, uh…I’m the daughter of…[shocked]
Inquisitor: Unacceptable. What a sad thing you are. Unable to answer even such a simple question without falling back on references and genealogies and what other people call you. Have you nothing of your own? Nothing to stand on that is not provided, defined, delineated, stamped, sanctioned, numbered and approved by others? How can you be expected to fight for someone else when you haven’t the fairest idea who you are?

Babylon 5, “Comes the Inquisitor”

One of the most dangerous questions out there is the seemingly innocuous “Who are you?” Most people’s first impulse is to respond just as Delenn did above. Quick superficial answers. Names and labels provided by others, or society in general. Some reject those labels, and fight them tooth and claw, while others accept them and take them upon themselves. But when you strip all that away, what makes you, you?

Identity is a nebulous thing. Trying to lay hands on it is like chasing a well-oiled ferret with a jetpack in zero-G. Ultimately, most just don’t even bother with it, and go on with life. There is nothing wrong with this. Still, the better you know yourself, the better idea you have of if you’re following the path best for you.

Another way of looking at this is a series of masks. We present one mask, one facet of our identity to our co-workers. We present another to our friends, and possibly another to our family. Some may be in several of those categories and see more sides of us. And before you say you never do that, just think: do you discuss your sex life with your family or co-workers? Do you take the same attitude at work as when you’re at the bar with friends? So you share your baby pictures or stories of dumb things you did as a kid with your co-workers? It’s not something we do consciously, but something we have to do in society to survive.

I consider myself fairly honest, in that fashion. I seldom try to present myself as something I’m not just to fit in the group. Even still, there are things I don’t voluntarily share with my co-workers, because I know how they’d react – how they view those concepts is completely different from how I view them. I don’t actively hide these facets of myself, but I don’t trot them out either and wave them in people’s face going “Look how special I am!”

That’s actually probably something that deserves it’s own entry, actually – how dangerous labels can be, to ourselves and to others, so I’ll leave that alone for now and get back to the subject of identity.

Now I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the program called Second Life. It’s got a reputation for raciness, but then what on the internet doesn’t? What it really is is an online environment where you can be whatever you want to be, and build whatever you want to build, within the limitations of your skills, imagination, and resources. I mention the last part because SL allows people to sell their creations in-world for a SL money called Lindens, so you aren’t necessarily limited to what you can make yourself, which is a very good thing.

For some, it’s simply a chat program, albeit a very graphically pretty one. For others, it lets them explore their creativity, for good or for ill. And for yet others, it allows them to explore their own identity – in a world where you can be anything, what would you be?

It’s actually kind of interesting to see the sort of breakdown out there, between the various types. A heck of a lot of people out there basically take their physical selves as a template, whether they realize it or not, and then change all the things they wish they could change(or think they wish they could change) based on society’s images of the ideal (wo)man. In other words, lots of buff guys who could crack peanuts with their pecs, and women that a thin breeze might snap in half, with breasts as large as their head. Now a lot of these are probably in the first group I mentioned, who just are using it as a glorified chat program(and possibly trolling for virtual sex), but I have to admit that however shallow of me it is for it, whenever I see one of those I find myself just shaking my head internally – is that really how they would wish to be? In a world of Adonis and Aphrodites, where everyone is almost exactly the same, what then? (Not to mention the overtones that some of these lay on top of those physical images…)

There is a second side to that however – genderswapping. While there are many I’m sure that have made an avatar of their dream girl and then go and look to get laid virtually, for those who might be more comfortable as the opposite gender, it allows them to present as that gender and not have to deal with all the crap they would in the real world. It’s 100% up to the individual whether or not they want to reveal what sits behind the keyboard.

Of course, the same freedom to express yourself led to a large furry population as well. To borrow a quote, on the internet no one can tell you’re (not) a dog. Given the misunderstandings among the general population about what furry is(in no small thanks to certain media outlets) if you see one you know at least that that is an identity they’ve claimed for themselves. For some, it is another mask to put on, while for others, they may feel it is the mask they take off. It may be symbolic, or they may just find that species of animal really intriguing.

Again, when you have the freedom to be anything, what you choose can be telling.

Identity is also rarely static. We experience things; we learn; we grow. Who you are at 20 may not bear much resemblance to who you are at 60. You’ve had 40 years to learn more about yourself. 40 years in which you’ve changed the world, even if just the tiniest bit, and for it to have affected you.

There’s a lot more I could write, but I think I’ll leave it for there for now, as it is getting late. Babylon 5 however did love to ask the hard questions. And so, whomever may be reading this, I ask you:

Who are you?

The oath sworn through courage

Hotblood motivator

I don’t intend on making a habit of opening these with images… the last one was because the post was in large part about it(and I wanted to show off) but this one I’ve had for ages was too good to pass up.

Do you remember Saturday Morning Cartoons?  Waking up at 8am and rushing downstairs in pajamas to plop in front of the TV and watch 3-4 hours of adventure and Justice?  It was a tradition any self-respecting kid followed when I was growing up in the  80s, and continued through the 90s.  Sadly, it died a slow death in the 2000s, along with the secondary tradition of after-school shows, to be replaced with talk shows and Judge Judy.  Ultimately, I think we are the poorer for it

The real world is a shifting mass of grey on grey.  One man’s terrorist is another man’s Patriot. (Snowden, ‘nough said.)  There’s no solid battle lines, no hard good or evil, but lots of perspective bending, and those drama shows play off that.  While there is something to be said for not sheltering the young, you also only have that innocence once in your life(moral virginity?) and once its gone, its gone.

Once, kids grew up to a “this is bad, this is good” message, simple black and white.  Megatron would attempt to take over Hoover Dam and drain the electricity for his schemes, and the Autobots would show up to stop it.  Cobra Commander would steal some sort of weather control device to hold the world at ransom, and the Joes would go in and take it back or destroy it.  Doc Terror would take scientists hostage and the Centurions would rescue them.  It was very broad strokes, not very realistic, but we lapped this stuff up, and at it’s base it helped with the mortar of the framework of morality our parents taught us.  (I do wonder though if the Big Broadcast of 2006 episode of Transformers, whose message was “Sharing is Caring” and involved Wreck-Gar beaming a show to the entire universe, would air these days with the MPAA and RIAA.)

Now I’m not intending to turn this into a “those darn youngsters” speech, though there is a time and place for that as well.  What I want to talk about is why some of us find the idea of Burning Justice such a great thing.

The world is a big, scary place, even for adults.  Thanks to this instant communication called the internet, seedy stuff that used to be hidden is now out in full view for all and sundry, and a lot of us are realizing how screwed and helpless we are against the uncaring, unfeeling machine.  Something could be dome about it if enough people stand up, but there’s too many who either don’t see it yet or feel too alone to do anything about it.

Hotblooded anime and toku, or in general Big Damn Heroes, is our refuge from this.  Our own little hideaway, far from the cold uncaring world, where Justice and Hope always wins, albeit rarely easily.  Sometimes, our heroes even pay the ultimate sacrifice to allow the rest of us to continue on.  They remind us that there are better things out there and inside ourselves; we just have to find it.

While most of us(I would hope) realize that Super Robot Spirits isn’t going to magically solve every problem, they can provide inspiration and remind you to stick to your guns, even when all is lost.  There was a story on /m/(which I can’t find at the moment) about a young man who was a fan of Kamen Rider and had just made a helmet, so he was out at dusk being a kid again.  He happened across some muggers threatening a lady.  While most would have considered it stupid, he stepped in and scared them off.  While he realized afterwards how easily it could have gone bad, for one night, he WAS Kamen Rider.  He put himself in harm’s way to protect another, something we all should aspire to be able to do when the time comes.

Now(and this some something a lot of people confuse) just because a character is an avatar of justice and light doesn’t mean they have to be perfect.  Heck, I always preferred Spider-Man over Superman for that reason – he had faults, like any of us.  What’s important is that they(and we) try their best.

So that’s why some of us like our spandex-clad heroes, or karate bugmen, or giants of light, or what-have-you, beyond just the usual points about good stories and/or characters.  It reminds us that goodness can still exist in today’s world, and inspires us to better things.  It calls back to that little kid, sitting in front of the TV, slack-jawed as our heroes put the kibosh on evil bad-guy plan number 102.

Get in your robot

 

*preens internally*

About to lift off when something caught the eye~

About to lift off when something caught the eye~

My first commissioned art piece in, well, years(besides the icon I’m using now).  Part of that is due to the way I’ve treated my budget: bills and get rid of debt, THEN enjoy what’s left, and try not to spend too much.  Been out of debt for close on a year now probably, but only just now getting around to artings, since I spent the last couple months splurging on Transformers to backfill my collection on figures I’d wanted but never got to get while I still have the disposable income to do it.  All told, I apparently spent $3k on plastic crack this year. x..x

Now that that’s all done now though, I can resume normal Transformers spending(maybe 1-2 figures a month, typically) and look to see if there’s anything else I’d like to spend on, before the move I have planned next year sometime, once my promotion at work goes through.

ANYWAYS, yay art!  I actually had two lists: the list of artists I like the style of and wanted art from, and the list of pictures I’d like to see.  Unfortunately, I found the two don’t intersect meaningfully. It also doesn’t help that while I’d like to see more pics like the above, I don’t have a concrete image in mind for what I really want, beyond the ideas that had already crossed my mind:

1) “I like big horns and I cannot lie” – This one actually isn’t a picture of moi, but a funny thought I had back in Cata, after noticing a certain pattern in WoW: Every single female dragon has huge horns(if they have a unique model) and the males don’t.  I mean, look at our cantidates: Onyxia, Alexstrasza, Ysera, the Handmaiden drakes, Tarecgosa.  Every one of them has huge horns.  So I thought, maybe that’s the WoW dragon equivalent of cleavage? It also helps explain why the Handmaidens have those horns – Alexstrasza is the aspect of -life- so of course her servants would fill out early.  I explained this to someone else and they brought up a mental image of Nefarian pulling a Sr Mix-a-lot with 3 black dragonflight drakes in the background as chorus girls.  While I think it would be a hilarious image, it’s 4 characters, and I don’t really want to pay a large amount for what amounts to a joke pic.

2) “IT foxdragon” – The second image idea I had – dragon!me with a headset and dragon-sized PC doing tech support.  A blending of both worlds essentially.  (It would probably also make a great wallpaper for my PC at work.)  Unfortunately, most of the artists I like for dragon stuff don’t do modern/techie stuff.

3) Something Sky Lynx-related.  – This came about due to the realization that G1 Sky Lynx in combined form is basically a giant robot dragon, and I started wondering what he’d look like as a dragon.  I couldn’t decide whether this would be a picture of dragon!Sky Lynx, or  dragon!me meeting Sky Lynx.  I don’t think either’s likely to happen though now again, due to lack of artists, and it’s also something I wouldn’t really want to spend a lot on.

So now it’s back to waiting for the remaining artists I want artses from to open for commissions, and hopefully in a price bracket I feel decent about spending on.  Good artists deserve a good price(and some still give awesome deals in that regard, if you convert the price to an hourly value) but until I’m stable in a good place, I sort of want to keep saving and not spend too much on anything.

Meh, I keep wanting to go off and talk about financial things(like living on half your take-home and putting the rest away) but that’s not what this post is for at least, and I don’t want it to turn into another dragonwall.

So enjoy artings!

FurAffinity vs SoFurry vs Weasyl

Hopefully this post will be a bit shorter since for once this isn’t an end-of-day post, but something that had been on my mind as something I wanted to discuss.  Now I’m not exactly an artist, as I haven’t drawn anything in years, but I have written some stories here and there.  I’ve also commissioned some art in the past and more recently, just to give you an idea of where I’m coming from in my opinions.  A heavy user/artist might look at things differently, etc etc.

FurAffinity

One of the oldest art sites still running, bar VCL(if it still exists) and Furnation(If that really counts, as it is more of a general webhost).  Over time due the the lack of a TwitSpaceBook site for the furry community, the community sort of shangahied it into that role, despite the best(and continuing) efforts of the admins.  Their intention is a place to put up art that was done “by you/for you” but over time they’ve narrowed that definition, and clarified parts of it.

For example, Second Life.  Originally, there were very few restrictions on what could be uploaded of SL pictures, then there started to be a large force of furs who put up random pictures of their stock avatar(about 75% of the time probably in a sexual pose).  This annoyed a vocal minority of users who disliked Second Life in and of itself, and the admins added a restriction to the number of shots you could have of each avatar.  Eventually that wasn’t enough and they then moved to only allowing collages and requiring a significant amount of user modifications.  Their justification each time was that the users could post the pics on Imageshack or TwittTumblrBook if they wanted to share them as there was no creativity involved, and there were too many for them to police themselves.

Eventually, they banned SL content all together on everyone’s main gallery, despite there being actual heavy creative work involved whether modding(like my avatars) or work form scratch, just because they didn’t want to deal with the arguments and fights any longer.  All because some users wanted to post pictures of “themselves” and their friends, just like they would on any other social networking site.

In the years since I found the site, it has changed very little on the outside.  A new color scheme, but mostly lots of back-end work to keep up with the heavy demand.  There was talk years ago of a FA 2.0 but so far it has yet to materialize.  The front page layout lends itself well to art of a visual nature, taking top billing, with seperate sections below for literature and for audial art.  All it shows though is a bunch of thumbnails, but mousing over gives a small pop-up of the description, not leaving you totally in the dark.  It also only shows the most recent uploads on the front page.

User pages are fairly basic as well, with places for your most recent favorites, most recent uploads, a shoutbox, a spot to feature your favorite submission, a slot for a visual profile ID thing(one of the few actual new features I can recall being put in), and a spot above it for all the text and icons you may want to put in.  In practice, from what I said above about the community looking at it more as a social networking site than a pure art site, that profile box will sometimes take up a full monitor screen’s worth of space before you get to any submissions as they try to squeeze in all the detail they would normally have elsewhere.  it’s also the only place you really have any customization beyond that provided.

Overall, it probably compares favorably to DeviantArt, with less customization on the user profiles, and some disagreement between the admins and the userbase on the purpose of the site.

SoFurry

Once upon a time this was purely an erotic story archive called YiffStar, before it changed hands and became the more general art site it is today.  This has both good and bad points, but one theing they haven’t done is stay stagnant, with a 3.0 of the current site already in testing.

The front page has changed with the versions, and true to its roots it feels a lot more suited to posting stories than either FA or Weasyl.  In large part this is because the stories submission, instead of just giving you a thumbnail, gives you a title, 5-star rating, and tags to give you an idea of what the story is about.  It also gets even billing with the art at the top of the page, though still separated.  Art is shown as thumbnails still, but that is also fitting.

The purpose of thumbnails, you see, is that it’s supposed to give you a quick idea of the contents of the submissions so you can decide if you want to actually look at it or not, rather than making it a throw of the dice.  i’d argue that their current approach to story submissions is really the text version of a thumbnail, and more appropriate for the medium than a possibly somewhat-related random picture in a tiny square.

Below that, they have photos and music separated out into their own sections.  I kind of like that they have photos separated, as it leans towards preventing the kind of kerfluffle that led towards a lot of FA’s restrictions.  The photos have normal thumbnails(as is proper) but the music has tags and rating, like the stories.  If it were me, I’d probably have a 10-sec or 15-sec clip you can play from there to act as a true music “thumbnail”.

Another nice trick is that they have an option to view the most “popular” submissions, instead of most recent.  It is the default as well, however, so it somewhat ends up in a feedback loop that drives certain submissions higher and higher.  It’s sad to say(and I wish it were otherwise) that if you were to look at it with all filters off, maybe twice in a week will there be something non-sexual in the “most popular” section.  Still, they also provide true filters(working via the tagging system) so you can hide what you don’t want to see, and the algorithm that picks what to display will adjust accordingly.

The user page itself is similar to FA’s, but with a bit more customization.  Stories take top billing here, and content is again separated by type, as opposed to FA”s “lump it all together”.  Journals are moved to the bottom, discouraging use of it as a blogging platform.  In addition to avatars, you can add a banner here as well across the top of the profile page, and both banners and avatars will automatically adjust what is available based on the maximum rating you set; from G all the way to X.

That all said, the preview of the 3.0 version of the site I’m not sure is better.  Rather than having all the media separated by type, it puts them all together, fitted into a grid ala Windows 8. There is supposed to be a list option too, but no preview of that yet.  Stories will have all the current information it looks like, but with a short description added, and possibly limited on the number of displayed tags(as that part isn’t clear).  You can still toggle between the various types instead.  Bio/profile and journal also share space, with a toggle, which I’m not so sure is an improvement.  Favorites don’t appear to have a display by default at all, just a link to get to them.  It all feels like a lateral move rather than a straight improvement(apart from the fact it fixes some scaling issues).

Overall, great site for stories compared to the others, but if you’re looking for visual art, it tends to be a bit of a second-class citizen in some respects.  The redesign coming aims to fix that, but we’ll see if the story focus is still there, or if literature becomes a second-class like FA.

Weasyl

I’ve got probably the least to say about this site. The newest(relatively) on the block, they’re still technically in Beta, but it might as well be a Google-style Beta at this point.

The front page in some ways feels like a darker-colored clone of FA’s, except that the “recent submissions” section puts everything together, with standard image thumbnails.  When you mouse-over, it gives no extra information on it other than title, so no way to tell if it’s a story, image, or something else.  If it had the FA-style description popup, it wouldn’t be as bad, but currently I’d rate it the poorest of the three in regards to the new submissions section.(On the other hand, as started they were still iterating and this could change.)

Below that however is a nice new feature where they display 10 random submissions from the entire site.  A good way to promote older work, without running into the feedback loop of making popular stuff more popular.

The bottom of the page, besides the standard set of links, also offers promotion of artists wanting critique, and current streaming.  SoFurry does the latter, but not the former, and FA does neither.  An excellent idea to help growing artists.

The userpage design is somewhere between FA and SoFurry, and probably the cleanest of the three in presentation.  In keeping with the non-separation of content, there is a filmstrip-style row at the top of the screen that shows the most recent submissions of that user.  Like SoFurry(and unlike FA) it also implements folders to organize your submissions, and shows those below.  It also displays your most recent art upload, but only for a time..  This is actually a rather nice idea, because it means you aren’t going to have the same image displayed prominently for long periods of time.

One innovative feature it has is a new submission type called “characters”.  Unlike the other site, it has a place to put all your “OC donut steel” creations, complete with a visual piece about them, rather than having them lumped in with other artwork submissions.  If you’re a heavy commissioner, I can see that as being a godsend, as you can simply link the artist you hire straight to a refpage and description, and easily keep it updated.

The other trick it has going for it is a feature called Collections.  Aimed at commissioners, when an artist uploads a piece they can send a message to the person who commissioned it, and if the person accepts, it gets added to their Collections page.  This way, it avoids duplicated content(one of the things causing FA’s back end to groan) while still allowing the commissioner to display their purchase with all their other stuff.  However, it depends on both commissioner and artist being on Weasyl, and the artist sending the collection request.  Originally you had to be the artist when Weasyl first came out, but because of the limitations I just mentioned, they changed their minds and just like FA you can upload anything “by you/for you”.

Overview

FA is the 800-pound bobcat on the block due to user intertia.  It’s the most basic of the three, but between artists wanting to go where the most users are and users wanting to go where the most artists are, it keeps trundling along on that feedback loop and user inertia.  It’s best suited for traditional art in my opinion.

SoFurry, true to its roots is the best place if you want to post stories and literature currently, but if you want to post any non-adult work of any kind, be prepared to not see much response unless it’s really good. (To be fair though, that last part is a failing on all three really, due to the nature of the userbase.)  The revamp may or may not change that, but it’s still a ways off as it was still in the alpha stages a month ago.

Weasyl feels like FA+ right now.  It has a similar bias towards traditional art, though more through the nature of their thumbnail system than by design.  The design in general though looks like someone got fed up with FA not updating, took a long hard look at it and asked “how can I do this, but better?”  Due to FA having the lion’s share of activity however, the only time it sees a lot of traffic is when FA is down, and from all reports it’s level of traffic is inverse to FA’s.  After the last FA downtime I’ve seen a minor push from artists to move to Weasyl, but we’ll see if that continues.

 

…well this ended up being the longest entry yet.  I guess I got a bit more into going over the details than I expected.

You can’t go home again

This is something that’s struck home(NOSSAN!) for me recently.  I’ll start off by referring to this xkcd strip: http://xkcd.com/1305/

It’s kind of humbling to think of all the little crevices and hideaways that used to be hustling and bustling with life but have since faded away, back to the ether they were spawned from.  There’s several that I can think back to myself, such as the old alt.toys.transformers Usenet group(which is sort-of survived via Allspark), and multiple IRC channels which are likely long gone by now.  I’ve experianced things people will never see again. I’ve seen blinking marquee tags off the shoulder of Angelfire.  I’ve seen the scrolling of many conversations in the park on SocioPoliticalRamifications.  All those moments, will be lost in time.

But Blade Runner paraphrases aside, what hit home the worst for me was three(or four, really) words.  The Isle of Wyrms.

When I first joined Second Life back in 2005, I saw it as merely a graphical extension of the MUCKs I frequented at the time.  It had just recently gone free, although you still had to have a credit card for identification.  As the MUCKs I had frequented abck then were all furry-oriented, I initially did the same and made my initial home of sorts at Lost Furest and the SL version of Lost Lake(from DMFA).  Eventually as I got more comfortable in SL I branched out, both in exploration and identity.  For a short time(relatively) I played around with a chakat character, before I got my first dragon at the Isle of Wyrms.

This was back near the tail end of 2006 when I first actually set foot there.  I’d been aware of it earlier thanks to two of the Lost Lake folks having gotten adults at one of the hatchings, but the chakat skin no longer fit. (Figuratively, not literally).  I’d just missed the winter hatching, but I had plenty of Lindens so I snagged an Astral Wyrmling.

A little background here: At the time, IoW only sold the Wyrmling(think teenager) and hatchling size dragons 24/7.  The adults were only available to teh general public in limited numbers. and only at solstice or equinox.  Daryth Kennedy, the artist behind them, felt it added a bit more meaning and specialness to them.  You could buy more at any time after your first, but that first one was meant to mean something.  At the time.

I toyed around with D&D color schemes initially, and was considering going brass before I ended up with a dark blue that felt right.  At the time they only had 2 sims; Limbo, which had the sandbox, drum circle, and cathedral that held the vendors, and Lethe, which was the residential sim.  I felt that maybe I’d hang out for a while and actually meet some of the others there, and found they were a great and fun bunch of dragons and other beings!

Not too much later, Daryth released the Wyverns, and held a special hatching to celebrate the new avatars(and beta-test the new hatching system).  While it didn’t go 100% smoothly, I was one of the first Arctic Wyverns(fittingly enough) and there definitely was a sense of meaning to it all.  There was a sense of magic in watching all the new dragons spread their wings for the first time, figuring out all the new things together there in the Limbo Sandbox.  I may not have any screenshots, but I definitely have the memories of it all.

Time moved on and the Isle grew.  More sims were added and more people came to join the community around these large(and small!) scaly critters.  Heck, I spent many hours on the Isle myself tweaking my avatar towards what felt like me.  At one point, there was I believe 12 sims, and we were connected with the elf sims in a sort of “fantasy continent”.

Then the economy took a dump and the Isle started to shrink again.  New advances in features we could use for avatars came and the original dragon designs became Legacy, until finally the hatching was ended as there were starting to be eggs left available until the next hatching.

Somewhere around then I got more heavily into WoW raiding, and between that and work I didn’t really spend the time to hang out around the Isle regularly anymore.  I dropped out of SL for a couple years around ’08, and then found time again around early 2010 for a while, then left again to come back in late 2011.

When I took a look around each time, I found a lot of the places I used to frequent had vanished.  Lost Furest had closed for renovations and never fully re-opened.  Furnation had changed greatly in design. Fox Valley had turned into a bunch of residential sims. Various other sims had moved or no longer existed. The Isle had lost territory itself, but the Cathedral was still there, and mostly the same.  Limbo was still around with its sandbox in all its glorious lag, mostly unchanged from 2008 or even earlier.  Hatchie Haven and some of the satellite sims were still kicking around just fine.

When I logged back in not long ago after basically 2 full years away I first ended up on some random sim elsewhere.  I felt a moment of.. panic? at first, but a quick search showed me Limbo was still there, so I teleported back. And found myself surprised and disoriented

While I had seen it happen to any other places, I guess I had subconciously assumed it would never happen to IoW.  6 years in SL is like decades in the real world, and Limbo had always felt to me like the core of the Isle, maybe in part because I had arrived before the Cathedral sim was added, when Limbo basically was the IoW.

At some point in those two years, Limbo had been steamrolled over and turned into a residential sim, replacing Lyre, which was no more.  It took me a bit to figure out that much, as the notice about it was long gone from the Groups Notice list, since it only keeps the last two weeks of notices.  The mall and sandbox, the latter of which used to be the place dragons came to hang out, had both been squeezed in alongside the Cathedral, and to my full-size dragon self it felt cramped compared to what we used to have.  Even more sims are gone now, and a quick look at the green dots on the map showed barely anyone around.  (To be fair, the last time I was there that was kind of the case, but there was usually a couple people at the sandbox at any given time.  Not now.)

I managed to spot a friendly face, but he was AFK apparently when I landed to try and find out what had happened while I had been gone.  I’ve hopped on a couple times since, but each time there was basically no one at the Sandbox or the Cathedral, and I have no idea what spaces on the neighboring sims are public anymore, or where the dragons kick back now on the Isle. A couple times there was a bit of play in the Citizens chat, but even that seemed quiet the times I was on.

To put it in an analogy, it’s like a kid who grows up around this awesome forest, leaves for college, and comes back to find it had all been torn down for a housing development.(Which also has happened to me, after a fashion.)  The IoW had felt stable for a long time, like anyplace built by dragons should.  Relatively I supposed it was as well, with how fast things change in SL.  It may have been bad timing on my part, compared to when people are normally around, but it feels like I’m a stranger in my own hometown, so to speak.

On old-time maps, “Here there be dragons” was a way of marking places that were unexplored, unknown.  For me, it meant “Home is here.”  With all the changes now, I don’t know anymore where to find my scaled brethren, or even how many of them are still around.  There are still drum circles it looked like, so I might poke my snout in around then.  See what other greyscales might still be around.

A home isn’t just a place where you keep all your stuff, or in the case of SL, the place you get teleported to when you get ejected off a sim.  A home is where you can find all the people you care about, and vice versa.  People change, places change, and you can’t count on it being there forever, waiting for you.  Especially in a world as ephemeral as that online.

But that doesn’t stop  that feeling of melancholy when you find out your old home is no more.

What’s in a name?

Ah, that new blog smell.  Smells like… bleach?

Hopefully this attempt will last a wee bit longer than my previous ones, as once I have all the kinks worked out, this will be the main face of my website.

A personal website… seems so passe in the days of twitter/facebook/tumblr, etc.  When I took my first steps onto the internet however back in the late 90s, none of those existed. If you wanted a webspace, you had to either register at something like angelfire or geocities with their ~blah names, or for the elite of elite you could get your own domain name! (You also had to know HTML and we liked it that way! *shakes cane*)

Back in 1999, I was still in high school, and found a free hosting scheme that offered a domain to go with it.  Too good to be true?  Of course it was, but I didn’t know it then.  I looked for what was available, and as I had been using Starfox as a callsign in various games and such, I went wiht starfox.net.  Everything went smoothly, so imagine my surprise when a month later I got a bill from Network Solutions for $70 for 2 years on starfox.net.

After I paid it, I found that I actually had full control of the domain rather than my host, who I had expected to handle all that.  So I mentally shrugged my shoulders, and pointed it at a better free hosting service I had a site on, and moved on.  Like I said, having a domain was a big deal back then!

As time wore on, things changed, and my hosting bit the dust, so I moved it to another host.  In the early 2000s Network Solutions lost its monopoly on serving as a registrar as well, and I was able to move to another host for a slightly cheaper price.  To my surprise, I found out you could set up e-mail forwarding too!  Rather than having to tell people to e-mail <random letters and numbers>@<isp> I could tell them, “Just e-mail me at <blah>@starfox.net” and I’d know it would go to wherever I had my e-mail set up.  And time marched on.

My website evolved alongside, though in fits and starts.  I don’t have the original site anymore anywhere I don’t think, but it was some monstrosity using frames to make menus like magic, because frames were hot shit back in the late 90s.  At some point in the early 00’s I rebuilt it to use a floating table and css, around the time I was really into the Eldoran trilogy of anime, so I added informational pages on that.  Then it sat again for a few years, for another revamp around 2006-2007.  I was starting to really job-hunt at that point, and since I was using <name>@starfox.net on my resumes, I wanted to make sure it was too horrible if they ever visited it.

It stayed that way pretty much up until now.  Last year I started thinking about it, wanting to change it but with no idea what to change it to.  I checked with a coworker that had his own domain as well still, and he uses his just for a recipe website for his family and to host an Exchange server.  I considered a general re-do but I’m old enough now that the thought of recoding all that HTML just doesn’t appeal to me.

A couple nights ago, I was lamenting the fact that I really could use somewhere to write about stuff, either just to get it off my chest or to squee about(yes, dragons can squee), and I recalled that you can host your own blog.  Why sign up for LJ or tumblr, when I don’t know anyone on either, and can do this instead?

Thus, I spent a large chunk of today working out how to work with this and getting it set up in a staging area on a different webhost.  My current one doesn’t have SQL turned on, and I don’t know how soon they’ll get to it, so either I’ll move this to this new host I’m trying, or move it to the main site once it’s active.

Back to the blog title though.  Once I had this shiny new blog installed, I needed a title for it.  Then, I recalled how I got my domain in the first place, and decided to bring it back full circle.

Llewelyn Mistral, Starfox, Ikimasu~

As to the rest of what I’ve been doing, it’s a whole lot of computer junk.  As we all know, dragons hoard things.  Me, I hoard data.  And Transformers.  And Books.  And, well, to get back to the point I have a lot of data stored away on my PC, and there’s a famous saying about data and users:

“There are two kinds of users:  those who have lost data and those who will.”

I’ve got gigabytes of music and images, and terabytes of video.  (Hey, 2 Terabytes is still multiple terabytes!) A lot of my video has been adequately protected, as I’ve had a NAS for years now that I move completed series to, and as I have I’ve also burnt it to disc. Sure, my current NAS is more powerful(Synology DS414 with 8TB in RAID compared to a unRAID server with 4TB) and I need a lot fewer discs due to going from CD to DVD to Blu-Ray, but the point stands.  One thing I’ve never adequately backed up though is those images and music, and the unfinished series sitting on my desktop.

I’d been saying for years that I wanted to set up rsync between my desktop(as I run Linux) and the NAS, but I finally decided enough was enough after doubling my space and put my time where my mouth was.  Some fumbling around in the terminal and some testing, and I’ve now got rsync set up to allow manual sync, so all that’s left is to automate it sometime this week.

Kinda ironic that on my vacation from working with computers, I’m using the time to work with computers, eh?

As I said though, I have a tendancy to hoard data and there had been years of cruft building up in some of those.  Music, I’d always kept semi-organized to make it easy to find songs, but the images and documents folder had slipped away from me as I got lazy with keeping up, so part of my time since going on vacation has been spent re-organizing my file structures, to coincide with getting real backups going.  The majority of it has gone to the images library though.

When I first started I had thought “Gee whillikers, it shouldn’t be too had to tag everything to find easily.  Thanks, gThumb!” and so when I started going through I started tagging.  And tagging.  And tagging.  And then I began to get a real grasp of how many files 16000+ actually was.  So, I decided to say screw it, and managed to categorize everything adequately again by folder, with one exception: my anthro art folder.

When I started collecting furry art, I originally had kept a folder for each artist, but at some point along the way between then and now I thought I’d switch to categorizing in folders by content.  I already had enough by that point that I got burned out on it and stopped halfway through, and then basically left it there for years, while I just added images to the “new” folder instead.  With this shiny new tagging system I thought I could have my cake and eat it too, and use artist folders with content tagging, but that was before I realized how much work it was going to turn out to be.

Now, I’m back in the situation I was before; half in one scheme, half in the other, but I don’t want to stay there this time.  I already deleted some garbage I had thought was neat back when I was 16, but there’s still several thousand images to sort through.  I really would like to tag it all, but I don’t know if the effort is really worth it.  I could just blow most of it away and start anew, except a lot of it is actually good art objectively, and some of the places I got it no longer exist.

And then there’s the video.  Because of the NAS move, my HTPC(which runs XBMC) now has an outdated database.  All the links to the various files i had shared out are at a different address, so I’ve got to load it all back in, once it finishes spending the next several hours purging itself.  However, this does provide an opportunity as well.

Super Sentai.  Kamen Rider.  Both franchises that have run for many, many years in the Land of the Rising Sun.  The way I(and most in the toku fansubbing community) view them is a bunch of loosely -related separate series.  After all, they all have their own stand-alone stories, and the only crossover is the yearly VS movie. Just like anime, right?

Well, there’s no toku equivalent of anidb, so for XBMC to load the data, it has to scrape it from tvdb instead.  The administrator there, rather than treat it like the rest of the world, instead sees it as multiple seasons of the same single series. So even though one year might involve using super-science switches and cosmic power to the next year’s magical rings and circles, all they get in the system is a single blurb about how it all started, and the only difference is the season poster.  What, you want to watch GoGo Sentai Boukenger?  No, what you really want to watch is season 30 of Super Sentai, since started in the 1970s.  What’s that, you mean Kamen Rider Kuuga doesn’t involve a successor organization to Shocker?  NO WAI!

Now, there’s two trains of thought i can use to deal with this. The first one, which I had been using, is to create nfo files for Every. Single. Episode. to organize it as separate series.  A lot of that can be automated with the right tools, but it’s still hours and hours of grunt work, even with that.  Or I can take option 2 and go with what he wants, since I know better and can still find it if I want to.  I have to admit, I’m seriously considering the latter option, especially as it’ll make it easier if I have to move devices again or load XBMC from scratch again.  Even though it’s just different ways of naming things, it still grinds my gears.

And I guess that brings the whole dragonwall full circle.  (Hey, if BBB can have bearwalls, I can have dragonwalls!) From the meaning of a domain name, to how to name folders for file archival, to how I want to name some TV series in my media manager.  A name may just be a label, with only the importance we assign to it, but that label still carries meaning regardless, even if we’re the only ones who’ll ever see it. And… I think I lost my point again.  I blame it on it being 1AM already.

So I’ll leave it at that and go find bed before I end up with a face full of keys.